A shaggy owl story

Why do we (well, some of us) feel compelled to air our most embarrassing moments on the public square of the Internet?

It was dusk on a Friday evening, and my husband and I were winding our way down Panoramic Highway towards Stinson Beach. The western sky was still light, but the woods along the road were in shadow. Fidgeting in the passenger seat and trying not to feel carsick, I suddenly saw two faces flash past in a tree – round faces, big forward-facing eyes, one large dark face and one smaller light face.

If I were an eight-year-old boy in my Star Wars phase, I would have thought: Ewoks. 

But I’m a 50-something-year-old woman who works for Golden Gate Audubon, so I thought: Owls. 

Maybe it was because it was that owlish time of day. Or maybe I was subconsciously thinking of a great photo I’d seen that day by Glenn Nevill of the huge-eyed, white Peregrine Falcon chicks on the PG&E building.

“Stop! I saw something!” I shouted at to my husband. To his spousely credit, he actually stopped, without getting us killed, and did a u-turn onto an area of shoulder.

I dug my binoculars out of the overnight bag in the back seat and peered through the increasing darkness. There was a big mess of sticks in the crook of a tree, and sitting in it, a large bird. “I think it’s an owl.”

My husband took a turn with the binoculars. “Great Horned Owl. In profile. Great job spotting it! But that’s kind of a weird place for an owl, so low down and close to the road.”

We watched for a while. It wasn’t moving much. I couldn’t see the second face that had flashed past. But how amazing would it be to see a nestling? This called for a better look. We drove back up the hill, did another u-turn, and parked about 20 yards away from the tree, now with a direct frontal view of the nest.

Yes, there was that second small white shape. Fluffy, kind of gumdrop-shaped, no pointy ears. “A chick!” I exclaimed quietly.

We watched. Neither bird moved. I started to have a bad feeling about this.

A car passed us, travelling fast downhill past the nest. The birds didn’t move.

Two bicyclists struggled up the steep slope past the nest. The birds didn’t move.

“Okay, I’m going closer,” I said. I crawled out of the car, closing the door gently and taking just a few steps so I could get a better view without spooking the birds. It was getting seriously dark now.

And yes, that bad feeling I’d had was justified.

The two shapes in the tree were… stuffed toys. 

Aak!

I wondered if whoever had placed them there had also installed a hidden camera. Of all the drivers who passed by, how many others actually stopped their cars? Were there any other suckers who got out and stood there staring through binoculars?  I wondered if I’d end up in some viral video of “America’s Dumbest Birders.”

“Well,” my husband said generously as he revved up the car and I slouched as low into the passenger seat as a human body could slouch, “it was still good that you could notice something in the dark when we were driving past so fast.”

Thanks, Sam.

But really, why do we (well, some of us) post our most embarrassing moments on the web for all the world to see?

I don’t think it’s masochism. Picture a dog or cat, facing a clearly alpha animal. It doesn’t want a fight. It wants to be friends. It rolls over on its back, paws in the air, tender belly exposed.

Present your vulnerability and you won’t be attacked. Make fun of yourself and people will laugh with you, not at you.

On the other hand, maybe some of us just can’t resist telling a good story. Even when we are the punch line.

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2 Responses to “A shaggy owl story”

  1. Ann Says:

    Great story, Ilana. I have a similar one I might share if I can get over my embarrassment :)

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